John Gottman is a contemporary psychologist best known for his research on marital stability and his ability to predict divorce with over 90% accuracy.
John Mordechai Gottman was born in 1942 in the Dominican Republic to Orthodox Jewish parents. Gottman attended Lubavitch Yeshiva Elementary in Brooklyn, New York. He has a PhD in psychology from the University of Wisconsin in Madison, and he did his postdoctoral work at the University of Colorado in 1971 and 1972. Gottman is a Professor Emeritus of psychology at the University of Washington and heads The Relationship Research Institute and the Gottman Institute with his wife, Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman. The institute provides therapeutic treatment to couples and trains professionals in the Gottman Method.
Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottman is a clinical psychologist who works in private practice in addition to supervising and co-designing the clinical training program at the Gottman Institute for couples therapy. She is often sought as an expert consultant on marital issues, domestic violence, abuse and trauma survivors, and same-sex marriage.
John Gottman has published numerous popular books on marriage and dozens of scholarly articles. He has also had many media appearances, and he was named one of the 10 most influential psychotherapists of the past quarter century by Psychotherapy Networker in 2007.
Contribution to Psychology
In an effort to determine what relationship features make marriages sustainable and why some marriages end in divorce, Gottman conducted research on more than 3000 couples, and he has become well known for his ability to predict the likelihood of divorce in newlyweds. He based his predictions on a technique involving the examination of micro-expressions, human behavior, and emotion derived from theories developed by Paul Ekman. Gottman's principles are built upon the concept of micro-expressions. Micro-expressions are tiny, fleeting expressions and forms of body language that can convey emotions such as contempt.
Gottman outlined four significant predictors of divorce, which he termed the “four horsemen.” These behaviors, which include excessive criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling, are significant predictors of divorce among newlyweds. Later in marriage, low positive affect, negative perceptions of the marriage, and few positive memories of the early relationship become significant predictors of divorce.
Gottman's book, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, outlines his theory of successful marriages. The seven principles include:
- Identifying the "love map," the region of the brain in which information about our partners is stored.
- Acknowledging, appreciating, and respecting each other’s differences in order to foster feelings of admiration and fondness.
- Turning toward one another, rather than away. Noticing small accomplishments, acknowledging a partner’s issues as separate from one’s own, and focusing on one another in small ways will help to maintain a sense of connectedness that fortifies the foundation of the relationship.
- Accepting a partner’s influence and yielding to him or her while maintaining a sense of individuality. This allows both partners to respect each other’s differences and to understand each other on a much deeper level.
- Learning to compromise in order to resolve conflict. Gottman stresses five important steps in order to achieve conflict resolution: Start a conversation gently, accept and give repair, comfort yourself and then your partner, compromise, learn to accept and tolerate each other’s shortcomings.
- Helping each other achieve personal dreams and goals. Many problems can result from the feeling that a person’s goals are unrecognized or unsupported by that person’s partner.
- Establishing a sense of shared meaning. Develop a system of sharing and connectedness that involves values, actions, symbols, roles, and traditions.
Gottman’s work continues to influence the direction of couples therapy. He regularly conducts seminars designed to improve marriage, educate marriage counselors, and prepare couples for the birth of a child.
Criticism and Controversy
Although Gottman has gained much publicity due to his accuracy in predicting divorce, some researchers have heavily criticized both his claims and methodology. One study, for example, found that Gottman's seminars had no impact on a couple's long-term marital stability and that the seminars might even increase a couple's likelihood of divorce. Further, unlike life events such as a sudden illness, divorce is not an event that happens to a couple. Instead, one member of the couple has to choose to seek a divorce. This element of choice may not be fully accounted for in Gottman's theories. Couples who believe in religious proscriptions against divorce, whose financial situation makes divorce impossible, or who simply choose to stay together despite unhappiness aren't fully accounted for in Gottman's divorce statistics.
Selected Works by John Gottman
Gottman is the author (and co-author) of forty books including:
- What Makes Love Last?: How to Build Trust and Avoid Betrayal
- Why Marriages Succeed or Fail
- 10 Principles for Doing Effective Couples Therapy
- The Relationship Cure: A 5 Step Guide to Strengthening Your Marriage, Family, and Friendships
- The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country's Foremost Relationship Expert
Dr. Gottman Featured on GoodTherapy.org
In May, 2010 John Gottman presented The Science of Trust, a GoodTherapy.org Web Conference available to clinicians for CE credits.
- How to Keep Love Going Strong. (2011). Yes! magazine. Retrieved from: http://www.yesmagazine.org/issues/what-happy-families-know/how-to-keep-love-going-strong
- John Mordechai Gottman. (2009). Contemporary Authors Online, Biography In Context. Retrieved from: http://ic.galegroup.com.ez.trlib.info
Last Update: 07-06-2015